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The Moment Stealer

The Road, otherwise known as No Hope No Future

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

The Road is the story of a man and his son as they make their way through a country that has been turned into a scorched and desolate wasteland. The story follows as they do their best to survive the harsh climates and the barbarous humans the unnamed apocalypse left behind. Day by day, they struggle to walk through the ashes of civilization and try their best to cling to their humanity, when all they have is each other -- and sometimes even that isn’t enough.

 

Once upon a time, someone must have told Cormac McCarthy that a good writer should put his characters through hell, and McCarthy totally ran away with it. Because I honestly don’t think I’ve ever suffered so vicariously from a book before. Reading it was exhausting -- even during the few moments when the protagonists were happy, I knew it wouldn’t last long and I’d spend those few pages dreading the minute everything came crashing down. They’re never fully happy, they’re never fully safe, and you as the reader are never going to be able to chill out with this book. Leave it behind on your way to the beach.

 

There’s no way to review this lightly. The text may be simple and spare, but what it tells you is so heavy you have to put the book down every now and then to relieve the dread. Even the way the prose is written amplified my discomfort -- the way McCarthy would narrate every action to the smallest detail (like when the man would be Macgyvering tools together, McCarthy would explain every single move he made). The text is like a leafless tree with branches splitting off into tinier and tinier branches. You’d have to squint to see the spark of life, but it’d be there.

 

Maybe it’s meant to tie into the overall themes of bleak stagnation in the story. There’s not much in the way of hope in the book -- they’re headed for the coastline but even the man admits that he doesn’t expect anything to be there. What we see of the remains of humanity horrifies and depresses in alternation. Father and son never quite come to an understanding because they never actually hash it out. Protecting his son is the man’s sole reason for living but because of that the boy is never really given room to grow. There’s a disconnect between them that never seems to be breached -- he likens his son an alien sometimes, and thinks that his son must see him as a figure from an entirely different world. The boy also spends most of the book terrified and weeping, unable to take care of himself, and the ending doesn’t seem to promise much growth either.

 

I don’t think I’ve ever read a bleaker book (and I probably wouldn’t want to), but there’s just something about The Road that’s compelling in its emotional starvation.

obligatory dicking around post

How am I suddenly following a million accounts on Booklikes? I just got here.

Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human - Grant Morrison In Supergods, rockstar graphic novelist Grant Morrison maps the story of the comic book superhero from its earliest beginnings to the present. Blending a lesson on caped crusader history with a memoir of his own life and career, all of this comes together as an incisive look at what superheroes mean to the people living beyond the half-tone ink and paper.

I’ve always been divided on how I feel about Grant Morrison’s work. On one hand, his Batman and Robin was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had reading comic books. His wide-eyed run is a mad and subtly harrowing ride from start to finish, with truly touching interludes that make you forget these are just fictional characters, instead of living, breathing people whose feelings hold many familiar notes. On the other hand, The Return of Bruce Wayne was built up for ages and ages, only to come out as a sprawling mess of hasty plotlines and obscure references. I value a pop culture reference as much as the next culture geek but when an offhand comment ejects you completely from the story because you have to research its provenance, whatever charm it’s meant to summon evaporates completely. The author is merely patting himself on the back for being so very clever at the expense of you, the reader.

But with Supergods, it works.

Supergods details the story of comic books as a reflection of human history itself. Comics began as reactionary, answering a need in the general public to look up to a figure that stands firmly for justice and liberty, proof that good always triumphs over evil. Over time heroes would follow trends, changing themes and growing according to the tastes of the times, turning tricks and struggling to stay relevant and in the public eye. Comic companies rose up and with them came the politics and power plays that echoed down to the costumed crusaders. Things became less about story and more about figures. From veritable spandex gods looming on high, they descended to the depths of society, plagued with problems that were entirely too human. They dredged up our darkest fears and served as a black mirror to our worst fantasies. Over time, comics have moved to the forefront of pop culture, instead of lingering in the back like an incredibly garish set of wallflowers.

Don’t be fooled by the trippy imagery and the rapid, meandering sentences that make up this book’s lifeblood--Morrison is insightful in his deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction of the superhero myth. I’d often lean my head back out of the book, rolling his ideas around my head. Morrison’s prose rambles, it ducks, it dives, but its vivid imagery and rock and roll poetry cadence never fails to keep one hooked, though the narrative can be a bit scattered and tends to rack focus. Pop culture references of varying levels of obscurity are liberally strewn throughout the book, but these enrich the narrative rather than tripping it up. At some point, it becomes less like an academic discourse and more like an amusement park ride through the shifting, undulating pathways in Grant Morrison’s head, where obscure references are part of the flavor of the trip.

Sidebar, I would actually pay for a ticket to that ride.

If you want a crash course in comic book history, look elsewhere. Morrison may list the biggest names and influences in the course of the book (some of which I need to look up at some point in the near future), but like his own graphic novel works, this is not an easy book to read. There’s something a bit self-indulgent about his prose, a hint of a man buying into his own myth -- but considering the impact he’s had on comic books (none of it exaggerated), it’s difficult to grudge him his confidence and false modesties.

Whatever else you may say of his work or his style (and as he is one of the most polarizing writers out there, there’s plenty to say), Morrison stays true to the wellspring of (often odd) ideas in his head, at the expense of alienating a mainstream audience. I can respect that. And more importantly, Grant Morrison’s love for superheroes is earnest and resonates throughout the book. Putting politics and personas aside, Morrison is at heart a big geek like you or me, and that’s what kept me reading. He understands superheroes because they’re real to him, as big a part of his life as anything else, and he puts to words what many of us have always felt.

Shadowfell, or Fomenting a Rebellion Whilst Walking A Lot

Shadowfell - Juliet Marillier

I think I've been spoiled by Juliet Marillier's earlier works, because as enchanting as Shadowfell is, and as thoroughly as it had reeled me in to the exclusion of all other things in my life, I still can't help thinking that it's missing something. I'm pretty sure that if some other author had written the exact same book, I'd be perfectly satisfied, but I guess I've come to expect more when her name is on the cover.

Trying to pinpoint what exactly fell short of the Marillier Mark is a bit tricky. I don't like to blame the protagonist, because this book is all about how strong Neryn is despite the many terrible turns her life takes. I understand completely why she's so timid and wary--I'd be a bigger wreck than she is if I experienced even half of what she has--but for story purposes, she seems a little pale. She isn't a terrible character -- she's nuanced, she's flawed, and she ultimately rises up to the occasion despite terrible odds and no one to trust, and that's admirable.

It's just that there isn't much of a spark in her, which leads me to some confusion on why Flint would fall in love with her, especially as immediately as he does. I can't help feeling that he just wants to take care of her because she's a wreck, like one would a stray, but events dictate a romantic emotion in addition to humanitarian concern.

I really wanted to love this book, but I'm afraid I'll just have to give it three stars. I suppose this is because so much of Shadowfell was Neryn walking and thinking gloomy thoughts. The next installment seems to be promising, with the ending of the book introducing a broader cast of characters I can't wait to love and the promise of the plot plunging ahead in full steam.

To be honest, what I'm most excited about are the Good Folk, and how Neryn will bring them over to help with Alban's cause. The brief glimpses we've had of Neryn's abilities and the mysterious forces she comes up against were the best parts of this story, I can't wait for her to learn to wield her powers completely.

Read: 112012, Reread: 091313

Saga, Volume 1 - Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples I'd like to think I could talk about Saga forever, but the truth is at some point, I would just dissolve into an incoherent tangle of "BUY THIS WITH ALL OF THE MONEY YOU'LL EVER HAVE YOU WON'T REGRET IT" and "MARKO AND ALANA ARE SO COOL" and "SAGAAAAA" ad nauseum.

Saga reaches into your guts, tugs at all the strings, and hooks you one page in. It's a birthing scene involving a woman with scrappy little dragon wings and a man with ram horns on his head, but they could be the couple next door for the way they snap at each other. And it doesn't stop there. Vaughan is amazing at showing the depth and grit of Alana and Marko's relationship with a few simple words, and Staples's art is gut-punchingly raw and lovely. Nearly every page has a surprise -- be it a hilarious joke, a beautiful rendering of an environment or just a character's face, or some bizarre creature just being a casual abomination of nature, no big deal. It's a story of star-crossed love, of adventure in a universe filled with surreal creatures that shouldn't exist, of survival in a reality that rejects the very core of you because of love. It's grit and gore and dirty words, mixed with raw emotions and powerful moments. It's Saga.

Parting words? If you're not reading Brighan K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples's baby Saga, baby you're so wrong.
Simon The Coldheart - Georgette Heyer Simon the Coldheart is the story of Simon and how his heart is not cold at all. Not one bit.

There's more to it, of course, like how he starts out a veritable nobody and goes from the squire of his father's enemy to the lord of his own parcel of land to protector of the King's conquered territories. It features a fair amount of manly friendship and respect, with adopted brother Alan (poet, lover, all around smart-alec) and actual half-brother Geoffrey (hotheaded, impulsive, loyal to a fault). It also has a bit to do with his many great victories in war and how the greatest one of all was his battle with the Countess Margaret, who held her own castle against their foreign siege and who also could have stabbed him but didn't.

This is one of the Heyer books that would be great fun to watch on the big screen. One can already fantasize about the casting, and it would be a delightful set of contrasting characters. The tale is full of adventure and daring, and whatever it lacks in sparkling wit it makes up for with fascinating characters who all really like each other. Sometimes that's all it takes.
Flipped - Wendelin Van Draanen It's written for young adults (or maybe readers even younger than that) but Flipped teaches some very basic but often misunderstood concepts people can go their entire lives without understanding. Even I've fallen prey to it, not that I'm any particular font of wisdom.

Juli Baker, who isn't known for holding back, falls in love with her new neighbor Bryce Loski the minute she sees his blue eyes, and she falls hard. She thinks he's the most beautiful boy she's ever met and that he's the key to her first kiss. Bryce, on the other hand, thinks she's weird, and spends the next few years being plagued by her relentless attentions.

Towards the end of the book, though, their perspectives flip (as it will). Bryce begins to appreciate Juli for who she is and isn't afraid to be, and Juli begins to realize the emptiness of her crush on Bryce. They don't know each other at all.

It's a wonderful story -- it's simple, but it comes across in a powerful way. How often do we fall in love with someone -- or even just like someone platonically -- at face value without taking the time to find out who they really are? In fact, even This isn't a philosophical treatise in any way, but there are unexpected depths to Flipped's coming-of-age love story, and I'm enchanted.
The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister, #2) - Courtney Milan On the strength of her incredible inheritance, Jane Fairfield is, despite her questionable birth, undoubtedly a catch. Which is normally a terrific thing, except marriage would mean separation from her epileptic little sister Emily, who languishes underneath the dubious care of an overprotective guardian. For once, having incredible amounts of money is more of a hindrance than a boon. So she embarks upon a quest to make herself as unpalatable a marriage choice as possible, with awful manners and hideous gowns. For the most part, it works -- until she meets Oliver Marshall.

Oliver Marshall wants to be somebody, to make a respectable name for himself in Parliament. Being of questionable birth himself, he has long made a practice of being agreeable to everybody to further his ambition. So he certainly can't associate with someone like Jane, whose company is at best an eyesore to everyone around.

And there is the sidestory of Emily, who sneaks away from her gilded cage and ends up in the company of Anjan Bhattacharya, who is proof itself that still waters run deep.

Shenanigans occur, and in the end of course, everything turns out well, as it will in romance novels like this.

Still, what I quite like about Milan's books is that she emphasizes the importance of female friendships. One of the best moments in this book is when the artifice in Jane's false friendship with the two resident mean girls falls away and evolves into something meaningful.

Also, it's terrific that Milan's heroines can see straight into the heart of society and pick it apart. They understand what they find there and are none of them happy about the subordinate role they are forced to play. Their dissatisfaction with settling for the crumbs society allows them drives their actions as much as romance does, and it's a breath of fresh air. Milan writes this kind of conflict so well and with such keen insight, that I find myself enjoying their liberation even more than the love story.
Pacific Rim: The Official Movie Novelization - Alex Irvine As far as novelizations go, this one was pretty mediocre. I never quite got any real unexplored depths to the characters that I didn't already figure out myself from the film, and the writing was rather basic.

The book certainly did yield some interesting factoids (like how the Kaidonovskys's fierce dedication to their music, Mako's swordsmithing heritage, and the fact that Hermann is actually married!), but I was looking for motivations, thoughts, maybe even memories the novel could dwell on that a fast-paced action flick couldn't have time for. This was the story's chance to breathe and flesh out its decisions and characters. Backstory and facts were solid, but I wanted to feel what the characters were feeling. Also, major points lost for an ending where Mako and Raleigh kiss.

Alex Irvine may have dropped the awesome ball on this one.
Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch If I could give Scott Lynch all the stars, I would. No stars left for anyone else, Scott Lynch has them all. Scott Lynch is giving himself a hard time, because my expectations for his next book The Thieves Republic make the Sinspire itself look like a thimble.

Our favorite Gentleman Bastards Locke and Jean resurrect their career from the ashes of their last adventure and set their thieving sights on the gambling empire of the Sinspire. And somehow end up stealing a pirate ship, pretending to be captains? And then losing it to actual pirates to foment a rebellion? Caught between the two scheming political powers in the city, poisons and pirate alliances, far too many disguises to keep track of, and their own fatal cleverness, there's never a dull moment for our intrepid heroes.

And no barrels of horse piss, this time.

Scott Lynch really outdoes himself in further exploring Locke and Jean's characters. Locke is a delight wrapped in a package that's smooth and spiny at the same time. His cleverness often outmatches his own physical capabilities, but this little thief has the best luck ever witnessed in fiction. He's still so very human, though, and never more so when he's dealing with Jean. And Jean is dependable, solid, and really someone you just want to give a hug to because he's so delightful. His scholarly flirtation with Ezri was the cutest scene in the book (second only to Regal's constant harrassment of Locke).

And Zamira is simply the best, bar none. She probably earned Scott Lynch a whole constellation of stars. Incdentally, it is his defense of her character to a belligerent and shutter-brained fan that got me interested in his books in the first place. When she finally showed up in the book, I was amazed that anyone could ever find her to be anything less than FREAKING awesome.

Scott Lynch was brilliant enough already, but his vision of a world where the sexes were truly equal (female warriors and officers and characters of their own unique strengths, personalities, positions of power everywhere! And a great many of them straying from the hot, white, busty fantasy stereotype! Gasps all around! Pearls clutched!) put him in a league of his own. I've read a lot of fantasy books, but rarely has the playing field ever been this level, and unobtrusively so.
The White Queen - Philippa Gregory One of the reasons why I picked up this book was because the last time I tried to figure out the story of the Cousin's War, all the Edwards and Richards and George's got tangled up in my head. That old English tradition of repeating names and affixing numbers to the end for idenitifcation was, in hindsight, quite silly. I thought these kings and queens were all about posterity.

However, The White Queen does an admirable job of catching one up to speed on the events of the war, even though it's mixed with a healthy dose of fiction.

Watching Elizabeth's character evolve from a sweet and genteel country girl to a queen starved by her own incessant ambition and baring her fangs at anyone who poses a threat to her family. From lamenting the necessity of war in the beginning of the book, she goes and starts one herself at the end. How power corrupts, I suppose.

I understand Gregory's decision to infuse her family with their own particular brand of magic, but I find myself wondering if it was all rather extraneous to the story. Elizabeth was a formidable character and so was her mother -- the pride they took in their supposed magical lineage was a nice touch, but to me, they never really seemed to need it. It functioned as somehting of a crutch, because these women were strong and fascinating without it.

Will I read the rest of this series? This is actually my first Philippa Gregory book. I think I might pick up the others, but will be in no rush to do so. I am pretty curious about the fates of the rest of the characters in the book, but I will have to decide whether or not researching about historical figures constitutes as spoilers.
The Duchess War - Courtney Milan I think it was in the first chapter where I decided that there was no way I was going to finish this book --

Without loving the crap out of it!

The scene is this: Duke of Clermont Robert Blaisedel has retreated from the gala to find a spot of quiet in the library. Minnie, our heroine, has done the same, unaware of his presence. When Minnie's fiance comes barging in, she takes refuge behind a davenport and we overhear the ass's conversation with his friend about his intentions towards his intended. Needless to say, they're awful, and soon the pair retreat.

Robert reveals himself to Minnie and when he tells her that she should come down twenty minutes after she does, she tells him this: "The beautiful thing about marriage is the right it gives me to monogamy. One man intent on dictating my whereabouts is enough, wouldn't you think?"

With this one sentence, I fell in love. Minnie's perspective on marriage is bleak, but her submission to society has its fair share of defiance and anger as well. She rages against the limits society has placed on her for her gender, and absolutely loathes having to hide herself behind a pleasant and dull facade (due to reasons of preservation which are revealed later on in the book). Minnie, though it takes her a while to admit it, wants and deserves more from life, and once she begins moving, she TAKES it. Her intelligence is quiet and sneaks up on you when you least expect it. I never quite knew what she was going to say to Robert. She acts on her own agency to protect herself and her family, and by god, how could I not fall in love?

Another beautiful aspect to this book is her friendship with Lydia. Theirs is not a peripheral relationship, added in just to show the heroine's sociability. Her bond with Lydia is deep and forged from a whole life behind them fraught with experiences, and you can feel it through the pages. I'm delighted to find out that Lydia has her own story, because she is certainly a pleasure to read.

Our hero doesn't fall too far behind these two amazing ladies. Robert's family has a fairly checkered past, which he feels keenly. He's determined to right the wrongs of the past, and has to be commended for turning out all right despite what was almost assuredly the loneliest childhood ever. I loved watching him be constantly amazed by Minnie. He doesn't fight his attraction to her at all. His competence in all of his dukely affairs is charmingly offset by his complete inexperience in matters of the heart. I delighted in reading a handsome eligible word vomit all around the woman he was in love with.

So yes, to cut short an increasingly lengthy review: Read this book if you like heroines who refuse to be tied down by their circumstances. Read this if you like female friendships that take on a life of their own and make you want to call a girl friend up. Read this book if you want a story where issues of social justice and gender equality mix with quick snark that doesn't seem like snark and a heady romance. Read this book, period.
The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides At its heart, The Marriage Plot is a story of what love puts people through, not necessarily of romance itself. It's the story of what happens to people because of love and how it changes them. English major Madeleine, who has been the apple of Mitchell's eye from day one, begins a relationship with moody, intellectual Leonard, whose brilliance hides a secret. Mitchell figures he can wait for Madeleine, and begins to travel the world after college seeking wonders and spiritual enlightenment. And Madeleine learns that love in real life doesn't quite go the way it does in Jane Austen's world.

Sometimes this book came off as a bit pretentious, spouting off names of long-dead writers and seeming rather important about it. I suppose it's because this story revolves around the lives of very well-read college students who took their studies rather seriously. It didn't exactly turn me off, but sometimes I did wonder where the story went.

This book did get me thinking, though, and not because of the mass of the intellectual jabber it was filled with. It treats with the nature of a relationship, the dynamics of power and how relationships can change you for the worse (and happily you accept the change). If I were Madeleine, would I have behaved any differently? If I were Mitchell, would I have waited? What would I have done at all if I were Leonard? I don't know. I suppose I don't really want to know.
The Reluctant Widow - Georgette Heyer Despite the in-story death necessary for the status of widowhood and underlying plot of mysterious treason and breached national security in a time of war, The Reluctant Widow is one of Georgette Heyer's more lighthearted stories.

Elinor Rochdale's life first changed when her father took his own life and she was cast out of society and turned into a governess. She's not quite happy with her life, but it's enough for her. Luckily, change befalls her again when she enters the wrong carriage on the way to meet her new employer. And so she meets Lord Carlyon, who's in need of a lady to marry his horrid cousin. Said cousin expires in a drunken brawl, and so Elinor thus becomes the eponymous widow and mistress of a ramshackle manor filled with secret passages and even more secret documents.

One wouldn't imagine a cheerful romp under such circumstances, but so it is. Carlyon's irrepressible brother Nicky and his dog liven up the pages of what would have been a necessarily gloomy story, and soon bring out Elinor's own humorous snark. In fact, I'd have to say that Elinor is one of Heyer's best heroines, in her readiness to give as good as she gets in an intelligent and spirited manner. Her constant exasperation with Lord Carlyon's overbearing ways is a perfect balance to his almost deliberate attempts to needle her into a riposte. It's a pity their romance only takes shape and form at the very end of the book, but their repartee throughout the story is, though sparse, one of The Reluctant Widow's chiefest delights.
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells - Andrew Sean Greer The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is beauty and quiet sadness put to words of fancy and wonder.

It is the story of Greta Wells, whose life has become unbearable and heavy with loss. She submits to electroshock therapy (or electroconvulsive therapy, as the book calls it, but I don't see how that is any better), and finds herself plunged into two other parallel worlds set in different time periods. In each world, Greta's situation is different -- in one, she is waiting for her husband to come home from war and falling in love with an actor. In another, she is a mother whose loving husband holds a horrible secret. In her real life, she is all alone, abandoned by her brother through death and her lover through the withering of love.

There's this one paragraph that really struck me -- Greer talks about the impossibility of being a woman, how woman cannot live without having their lives decided for them among three roles: a shrew, a wife, or a whore. It's more beautifully phrased in the book itself, of course, but I found it incredibly striking in its painful truth. Hard to believe a man wrote such poignant words on woman's suffering. It's interesting how Greta's three lives mirror these three predetermined roles in society, and how only in one does she manage to break free.

When the book ends, you feel it. It could have been turned into a brilliant happily ever after, where all the three Gretas receive fairy tale endings and you shut the book with a happy little sigh. It doesn't. The way it ends is really the only way it could have ended, and when you turn the final page, you shut the book to have a moment of deep and contemplative silence.
This is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death - Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, David Malki, Nathan Burgoine, Toby W. Rush, Rhiannon Kelly, Ryan Estrada, George Page III, Chandler Kaiden, Tom Francis, Grace Seybold, D.L.E. Roger, Daliso Chaponda, John Takis, Ada Hoffmann, Rebecca Black, Karen Stay Ahlstrom, Gord Sellar, M I'm not a big fan of anthologies, because most of the time the story quality varies and sometimes you plow through a story just to get to the next. Not so in this book. Not a single story fails to draw you into its little world. I'm amazed at how all the writers took a single theme and ran with it, in extremely different directions.

From fantasy tales, to sci-fi adventures, to zombie apocalypse stories, to military accounts -- hell, even the superhero genre gets a shot. There's a choose your own adventure story, a story where humans have all died out and an alien race investigates our remains, a story that takes you back to pre-Revolution France, and a story about a vending machine that's vaguely Lovecraftian in tone. It's an incredibly mixed bag, all revolving around a common and compelling theme -- death. The stories look at how society accepts or rejects knowing one's death, how people change and react to knowing how their lives will end. All wildly interesting stories about the only universal constant - death.